Katyn represents a marker in human history not yet fully inscribed


Inaugural Speech at the Opening of the CWRU Symposium

Katyń: Justice Delayed or Justice Denied?

Hon. Dennis Kucinich

February 4, 2011, CWRU School of Law, Cleveland, Ohio

I want to thank all of you for your participation. Witam Was serdecznie. Welcome. This conference is so important because as the historical record of Katyn is developed, from this conference, I believe, will come an arguable case for a presentation to a tribunal. This is so important because, as we know, history ends up being the testimony of the victors, and the victors in war are often more interested in getting their narrative out and refusing to recognize what happened during a period than they are in a full review of events. So you have this disjuncture between the events as we know them and the refusal of both Russia and the United States to come clean as far as the historical record of Katyn.

That situation compounds the tragedy, because if it is true, as the Bible says, that we shall know the truth and the truth shall set us free. We are not yet free from the disgrace to humanity that the events represented by the massacre at Katyn have visited upon the world. We’re not free from that. It may be true that bodies have been exhumed, but the truth still lies buried.

As we bring that truth forward for the whole world to see, you begin to set the stage for the honest recitation of events and for the potential of reconciliation that can only be based on the truth. There is no reconciliation without truth. There is no possibility of being able to let the great souls who perished at Katyn be able to truly rest in peace if not for our efforts to be able to bring to the attention of the world the events that affected their lives.

Of course, those of us who love Poland understand that the massacre at Katyn was aimed at trying to eliminate the very idea of Poland, that it was aimed at trying to knock out not only the top officers but intellectuals who carry with them the narrative of the Polish people. So, this then raises the question of a connection to war crimes, which really are an attempt to exterminate a people and the memory of the people.

How do we come from this condition where Russia has not yet come to a full atonement? How do we come to recognize the importance of the United States releasing all documents that are available from that time? The only way that we can do that is through this conference. That’s the importance of your presence here today because you give testimony to not just the lives of those who perished, but to the deep in humanity. You give testimony to the importance of relying on structures of international law to create proper forms for the further working out of the crime and the crisis that Katyn still presents us to this day, because it is a moral crisis.

Wars can end but the moral calculus that really ends a war generally is worked out over generations of people. We’re now into the fourth generation of people who have looked back to Katyn as a marker in human history that has not yet been fully inscribed. So, I hope that this moment will give us an opportunity to show to our brothers and sisters in Russia the path towards atonement.

When you think of the word atonement, it is at one point you break the word apart, it is at onement, it’s really coming together as one people connecting with, not just a heartache, but connecting with the basic humanity that only mutual recognition of crimes can be able to celebrate.

We are in this moment where we talk about Katyn. We are challenged. Not only to call forth our brothers and sisters in Russia to recognize fully what happened beyond what Mr. Gorbachev said in 1990. To look for ways of atoning, to look for specific ways of achieving of forgiveness that is necessary. Then we have the chance to create a deeper meaning for peace.

Because peace is more than a peace of the grave. Peace has to come through mutual recognition of historical fact and the attempt to nullify historical fact, the attempt to try to nullify the very idea of Poland, the attempt to wipe out those who were responsible as vessels of the knowledge of what Poland was, is, and can be. That needs to be answered. And that’s what this conference is about.

In reading the memos by Soviet Commander Laverty Beria to Joseph Stalin, you are struck by the cold, mechanical bureaucratese that shows no sense of humanity. Speaks only in terms of enemies. Evokes an outgroup for the purpose of dehumanizing and then legitimatizes massacre. Those documents are worth studying because they point the way to the necessity of reflection on the kind of rhetoric that still exists in our world that would try to separate one people from another. What we’re challenged to clarify what happened at Katyn? Well, we’re challenged to share with the world this historical fact and to bring it to appropriate tribunals.

We’re also mindful that Katyn, in a sense, is a template for the attempt to annihilate historical truth and for the possibility of new massacres occurring. Yet, in this effort that you’re bringing forth in this conference, you are forcing a recognition of truths that will be uncomfortable for some. But we all must work out those discomforts because we need to be made uncomfortable. We need to be shaken to our core about events that resulted in the massacre of, in this case, tens of thousands, but then, across the world, in some cases, millions of innocent people. So, what you’re doing is important for the world.

As a member of the United States Congress, I’m pledging to work on matters of truth and reconciliation. We have our own challenges in the United States with respect to our own policies in that regard like our failure to properly account for the United States’ role in permitting Katyn to go unchallenged, in permitting Katyn to be buried. That’s something that we have to deal with.

I will work with you in helping to bring before the Department of State the case for the recognition of Katyn as a matter of importance to the world. I also will work with you to bring to the appropriate tribunals the historical record of Katyn, so that we can move on a path towards accountability, and responsibility, and to work with you in contacting our brothers and sisters in the Russian government to explain to them the absolute necessity of coming to reconciliation over this.

We cannot permit successive generations of Russian leaders to set aside the historical record for one political reason or another. It’s no longer sufficient. So, this is the moment that we can come together as a community of intellectuals, of political leaders, of legal experts, to not just make the case for the recognition of the tragedy of Katyn, but to make the case that this is the moment where we can begin a new direction in the relationship between peoples to recognize historical truth. In that, we celebrate the potential and power of our own humanity. To reconnect, heart to heart. To go beyond the tragedies that have visited us and those who we have followed.

So, I thank you for all that you do to bring this moment forward. Thank you for helping to put together this very important conference. I pledge to you my willingness to work with you to advance the truth of Katyn and the necessity of achieving atonement and reconciliation.

Thank you very much.